Private food banks for poor
The Delhi government and the non-profit Indian Food Banking Network opened the first food bank this month, with two warehouses to store food and 15 donors lined up, including corporations and retailers.
Initially, it will distribute packaged food and food items such as grains, pulses, oil and spices, followed by cooked food.
The goal is to create a nationwide network of food banks.
“One isolated food bank would have a limited purpose,” said Ishteyaque Amjad, director of corporate affairs for Cargill India, a unit of multinational food producer and marketer Cargill Inc.
Sam Pitroda, the adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on public information infrastructure and innovations, is championing the project.
He said he hopes the private food banks will supplement government efforts to distribute food.
“It has been a tradition in India to have religious organisations feeding the poor,” said Pitroda, a telecom pioneer in India.
“We have enough food, we don’t have logistics in place... We are using technology for logistics, like mobile phones, cloud computing, broadband network (to keep inventory).”
Though the government has many food schemes in place, from providing subsidised food grains to free school lunches, many of the poor cannot afford even two meals a day.
At the same time, the rich waste a lot of food. A fifth of the food served at weddings, parties and other social events every year goes uneaten, according to government estimates.
There are many challenges to setting up a food bank network.
For one thing, there are no laws in India to protect people who want to donate food.
The United States has good Samaritan laws to protect donors from legal action in case food rots by the time it reaches the recipients.
The good news is that hotels and others are jumping on board.
“We have been contacted by most of the five-star hotels in the city, and corporate canteens have approached us. There is a lot of opportunity. But our biggest challenge is food safety,” said Kuldip Nar of the Aidmatrix Foundation, a technology non-profit organisation and a part of the Food Banking Network.
Some Indian food experts say they wonder why the country had to look so far afield for ideas to feed its people.
“I think we should encourage this kind of initiative,” said food and agriculture expert Devinder Sharma.
“But the concept of food grain banks exists in Indian villages. In some 40 villages, people are managing their food grain bank.
“Villagers take from the bank in times of need and replace the same quantity with a little extra as interest... why don’t they take the idea from the rural areas instead of Chicago?”
Others pointed to India’s own grain stores, tonnes of which spoil each year in government godowns because of the lack of proper storage and transport facilities.
“India has the largest reserves of grain in the world. They are rotting everywhere,” said Colin Gonsalves, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court.
“Why doesn’t the government release it to the poor?”
Last year, the Supreme Court suggested that surplus food should be given to the poor free. But Prime Minister Singh said the court should not get into the area of policymaking, and that it was not possible to give free food to all the poor people in India.—Courtesy - The Straits Times